Ah yes, the fresh smell of hot-and-ready modern urban fantasy! It permeates the air of any bookstore or online shop offering nibbles of monsters in the shadows, strange and fascinating secret histories, and all sorts of delights for all ages of reader. The truth is, unfortunately, like any other genre that catches the public’s fancy, that abundance means there is just as many sugar-coated mudpies that leave you choking and sick to the stomach as there are real delicacies out there. So where does that leave today’s dish, Death Defiant?
As always, I can’t answer that question before we put our hands over our hearts to recite the Starving Review pledge:
- I attempt to rate every book from the perspective of a fan of the genre.
- I attempt to make every review as spoiler-free as possible.
To a readership that has had to struggle through so many bitter dishes in this genre lately, it’s understandable to approach this one cautiously. In fact, as with many first books in a series, it is the opening chapters that are the weakest. There is a precarious balancing act going on early between the need for reader information, necessary characterization, and an attempt to cling on to several mysteries beyond the exposition. This mixing of ingredients comes off a bit harried and uneven, as if the chef feared each element would be left out and kept adding dashes of each in succession. Still, as (SPOILERS!) the book is quite good, pointing the start out as the weakest element is far from damning. It’s vital to point out though, as an uneven start in a new series (something I speak from with some experience) can lead to diners not wanting to sit through the main course when it really gets good.
Once Defiant gets going, though, it’s truly a delightful meal. As with many of my favorite recipes, the book is grounded in its complex and likable characters. The main protagonists, no matter their origin, are strangely relatable. This relatability is something that Ms. Reiring mixes into the majority of the cast and it makes the plot and situations throughout grab you and carry you through the pages.
Speaking of the plot, it is a fairly solid set of situations and mysteries with some quite nice action scenes, something I was pleasantly surprised to bite into. Overall, there are only two plot inconsistencies, both of which are still stuck in my teeth, that struck me as important. Neither breaks the book by any means but I can’t help but continue to think about them. One is quite probably due to be explained later in the series but one (which I don’t think will be much of a spoiler) still sits with me and that’s the strange marginalization of humanity. Yes, it’s a book about supernatural creatures and some of that is to be expected. The climax, though, would seem to be the place for that to be reversed. However, it didn’t hurt Defiant‘s taste much at all.
I would be remiss in talking about Defiant‘s virtues and vices if I didn’t talk about the cherry swirl of romance baked into the loaf. Many of the current flood of urban fantasy/modern supernatural books feature romance prominently, often to the detriment of the plot. Death Defiant, however, bucks that trend. This recipe is about the characters and story first and foremost. There *is* a romantic subplot. It makes complete sense and feels completely genuine, growing over the course of the book instead of slammed into our face with a sledgehammer. Beautiful, subtle, and, while I was correct when I first picked up on the signs, I still let out a little whoop of joy when I finally bit down on the scene when it all comes together.
So, really, what else is there to say? Death Defiant is a carefully-baked bit of urban fantasy with equal mixes of drama, levity, magic, and romance that only suffers from a few poorly-mixed ingredients at the start and the end. If you love fantasy, contemporary works, drama, or romance, you would be well-served to check out this book! I look forward to seeing the next book here on Starving Reviews when it’s finished.
FINAL VERDICT: **** (A well-baked urban fantasy cake with just a few bad nibbles at the start!)